The one thing that the improv community has taught me over the years is how to chase the carrot at the end of the stick. Whenever I do this, the result is always the same: I end up eating a lot more shit than carrot. It’s rarely worth it. I always end up sacrificing a piece of myself, and I never really get ahead.
As I write this blog today, my hope is that you will stop eating shit. You don’t have to eat it. I’d like you to be honest with yourself right here, right now, if you are at a theater or in a group or on a team and it sucks and you are being treated like shit, ask yourself why are you still there?
You may be telling yourself that you have to be associated with a certain theater because that’s the only way to get an SNL audition. Or that after spending eight years at theater, you’re bound to get put in a team or do a show there. All fine reasons if you are not eating shit to get there.
People are going to ask me, what is the difference between eating shit and paying your dues? I agree, this is confusing.
We all are different and have different tolerance levels. You will have to determine for yourself whether doing something for free or for very little money is worth it. Here is my one rule of thumb when making the decision: Paying your dues is humbling, but eating shit humiliating.
Now the hard part is, and you are going to hate me for saying this, we train people to treat us like shit. Which makes us even more vulnerable to the carrot danglers of the world.
The good news is we can change. For me the dangling-carrot syndrome will never completely go away, but the progress is that I do it a lot less than I used to. Today, since I am aware of it, I actually use it to my advantage. When a once-in-a lifetime opportunity presents itself that is tied to the end of wooden stick with false promises, I use that as a red flag — a warning sign that I better ask for what I want or I will end up screwing myself over.
It’s tough. We are in a business where people gladly do things for free. So we do things for free, too, because everyone else is doing it. We do it because we think that is how you get ahead. We do it because we want the experience. We want the stage time. We don’t want to miss an SNL audition.
Beware. We need to value ourselves first before others will value us. Getting ahead is really an inside job. There are no short cuts. There is no way around it.
Recently a friend of mine went through a similar situation. He was desperately trying to get a new client in the arts – a really high-profile client with amazing star power. When he put in his bid for the project, he way under-bid it, and on top of it, he told the client it would take fewer hours to complete than it really would. He was willing to not only be under paid, but also to put in extra hours without telling the client. He didn’t need anyone one to dangle the carrot in front of him — he brought his own. He lied to himself, justifying that this was such a great project with a big-name organization that it would lead to other, more high-profile work.
Actually, the opposite the true. He has created the illusion that he is getting ahead, but instead he’s just going to get overwhelmed. This, of course, will lead to resentment, the number one killer of more people’s career in this country than anything else.
I have been told over and over again that successful people work smarter, not harder, and the same is true for us in the arts. The people I respect in the arts are making a living at it, a good living, and that is because they know their worth. Over the last two years, I have been traveling around the country teaching and doing live tapings of Improv Nerd, and through that process of asking to be paid and negotiating contracts, I am beginning to learn my worth and value myself. It’s not easy to ask for what I want. It’s uncomfortable, it’s scary, but I would rather feel those feelings than eat more shit.